The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, 2017 – Genesis 21; Romans 6:1-8; Matthew 10:24-39
“Who am I?” It is a question that fascinates our generation. Identity. Identity politics; ethnic identity, confessional identity, gender identity. We frame our lives as a search for identity. This is the question, we believe, at the root of happiness. The good life is the one in which I am free to be me.
Who am I? Who, indeed, shall I choose to be?
It is the question at the heart of this baptism today. And the answer baptism gives is unexpected. It throws a wrench in fact in the whole identity project…because it takes the focus off of me.
Who am I? This baptism says two things.
First, you are a child of God. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” we will say. God is our Father, and this child Paavo, this child Alice, is God’s child now and always, every day of his life, every day of hers. This child is being born today, by water and the Holy Spirit, born and laid in God’s arms as surely as he was born and laid in his mother’s arms not very long ago. Before and beyond and in all the days of our own fatherhood, those wonderful, crazy, sleep-deprived days of being a new dad and mom, God is our father. It is he who has made us and we are his. He has formed us, the beautiful biblical narrative tells us, in his own image, formed us from the dust of the ground and breathed into our bodies with his own breath the breath of our life. We are God’s children before everything else, God’s children from the first days of the universe, from the slow turning of the galaxies, from the ancient protozoa of the sea. We are God’s creatures, the children of God.
It’s a great gift to give your children, this knowledge that God is our Father. Because it opens up a world full of wonder: this beauty of the earth, sky and rock and northern lake, is not at all impersonal. It is an act of God’s love, all of it. “I thank you God for most this amazing day,” the poet e.e. cummings says, “the leaping greenly spirits of trees/and a blue true dream of sky.” David and I were at the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the AGO on Friday and saw there in her every painting the amazement of creation. She lived finally in New Mexico, looking out on one of New Mexico’s fascinating flat-topped mountains, and she said, “This is my mountain. If I paint it enough, God has told me that he is giving it to me.” She is right. God is giving it to her. This beauty of the world is the act of the Creator’s life-giving love.
We live not impersonally in a vast silence but face to face with a Father.
It is love that lives at the heart of things. I thank you God for most this amazing day. When you name your child this day “child of God” you are giving your children the gift of a world full of wonder, and a heart that can say, every day, “thank you.” Thank you, my Father, my God.
Who am I? I am one who lives in a relationship of love. There is no “me” on my own, and no amount of seeking my own desires will find “me.” There is only “me” in relationship with my God. I am made to say “thank you.” I am the child of God.
That is the first thing. But it is not all. I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This baptism names Alice and Paavo God’s children, and marks them as Christ’s own. We are not only God’s, we are Christ’s people. And this means we are signed with the cross.
And this is crucial. Because the world, our world—our lives—is not only beautiful but also fraught. With the eye of my eye I look out over Georgian Bay at sunset and rejoice, and with the eye of my eye I weep for the damage we have done, for the fish that we now can’t eat because of the chemicals they carry in their flesh, for the islands of garbage that float now like a canker on the world’s seas. With the ear of my ear I hear the cries of the children here and there, all the suffering people.
This world is God’s gift of beauty, and it is a place of grief and sin. We have made it that.
In the first days of the world Cain killed his brother and still the blood of the innocent is poured out upon the land. Oceans of blood, the Jewish scholar Montefiore says, in our own time 6 million Jewish men, women and children dead. And, of course, that is not all. In the first days of the world God saw that the wickedness of humankind had grown great upon the earth and all the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually, and the earth was full of HAMAS, violence. And it grieved him to his heart. In the first days of the world God sends the flood to wipe out and to cleanse. This, too—the corruption of God’s good earth—we remember today, and we remember the water that cleanses. The earth is charged with the grandeur of God, yes. But it is marred too, bleared and smeared by our own doing. In the midst of the beauty of the earth there is a problem of sin, and we are caught up in it. We do not do the good we desire, but the evil we do not want is what we do. Sometimes, we don’t even want the good. Wretched man that I am! Paul cries. Who will deliver me from this body of death?
And he answers, “Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is a deliverance, and it comes by way of Jesus Christ. Jesus the innocent one, who joined us in the place of our sin, who suffered the violence that we do, who died the deaths that we die. His cross rises over the harm that we do: his cross is the ark that carries us out of the sin that drowns this world, into the possibility of new life. This wood of the cross. This water of baptism, his death washing us clean. I sign you with the cross, we will say today to Paavo and to Alice. I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own forever.
Christ’s own, made now not for violence, all the ways we harm ourselves and each other, but for love.
Made to see in the world and in each other the creatures of God, each human person a child to be cherished. Made to live, like Christ, radically in obedience to God, radically with and for each other. Who am I? I am God’s child, in Christ your sister and brother.
Identity, it turns out, is not about “me” after all. It is not about finding myself. That is such a thin kind of life.
It is about finding God who is my Father, and Christ who is my brother and savior.
It is about the discovery of love—the love of God that gives us the mountain, and our answering love, turning in patience and kindness and gentleness and humility to God and always to each other.
The one who finds his life, Jesus says, will lose it, and the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. To our ears it is incomprehensible. It runs against the grain of our whole identity-driven age. But it is true. It is the path to joy. Who am I? I am the child of the Father, who gives me the mountain and the sea. I am Christ’s own, who died for me. It is love that is written on our foreheads this day, love of Christ for the world he has made; love of Christ Jesus for me.
And the world is alight with the glory of God in the blue true sky
and I am the one who says “Thank you.”